"It's been hard to tease out whether sleep loss is simply a byproduct of anxiety, or whether sleep disruption causes anxiety," said Andrea Goldstein, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in neuroscience and lead author of the study. "This study helps us understand that causal relationship more clearly."
In their experiments, performed at UC Berkeley's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, Walker and his research team scanned the brains of 18 healthy young adults as they viewed dozens of images, first after a good night's rest, and again after a sleepless night. The images were either neutral, disturbing or alternated between both.
Participants in the experiments reported a wide range of baseline anxiety levels, but none fit the criteria for a clinical anxiety disorder. After getting a full night's rest at the lab, which researchers monitored by measuring neural electrical activity, their brains were scanned via functional MRI as they waited to be shown, and then viewed 90 images during a 45-minute session.
To trigger anticipatory anxiety, researchers primed the participants using one of three visual cues prior to each series of images. A large red minus sign signaled to participants that they were about to see a highly unpleasant image, such as a death scene. A yellow circle portended a neutral image, such as a basket on a table. Perhaps most stressful was a white question mark, which indicated that either a grisly image or a bland, innocuous one was coming, and kept participants in a heightened state of suspense.
When sleep-deprived and waiting in suspenseful anticipation for a neutral or disturbing image to appear, activity in the emotional brain centers of all the participants soared, especially in the amygdala and the insular cortex. Notably, the amplifying impact of sleep deprivation was most dramatic for those people who were innate
|Contact: Yasmin Anwar|
University of California - Berkeley